Abolish the Gym Requirement


Griffin Larson

Basketball, other sports, and athletics in general are key parts of a high school education. But should they be required for all eight semesters?

Casey Murray, News Editor

For all the squabbling over how best to apply exemptions to the gym requirement in Illinois schools, one underlying principle is rarely challenged: the existence of the requirement itself.

The argument that gym classes can help instill good exercise habits and cut back on obesity therefore falls flat on its face (like a klutzy kid in gym class).”

The policy has been implemented in the Land of Lincoln for nearly three decades now, and the facts are in. A document released in 2016 by the Illinois Department of Public Health indicates that childhood obesity rates have continued to rise, and CDC data indicates that obesity in adults is increasing as well. The argument that gym classes can help instill good exercise habits and cut back on obesity therefore falls flat on its face (like a klutzy kid in gym class).

Gym advocates say also that taking athletic classes bestows character, life skills, and other intangible benefits. This is exactly why we have Wellness for Life and sophomore year gym classes: they provide a wholesome mixture of learning and exercise. I am not denigrating the value of athletics or questioning the dedication and commitment of gym teachers; those are sure and true.

The fact is that high school students have far too much to worry about. We are always told to get our sleep; we are always told not to stress out; we are always told that it will all be okay; we are always told that we will get into the college of our dreams. And yet, there is always a doubt, lurking, growling, menacing from the shadows. It is impossible not to stress out. Blocking off fifty minutes that could be used for lessening the homework load is not a good way to remedy that.

Sure, some students Snapchat away their study halls or do something else to waste time. But those fifty minutes of gym are not a stress reliever; they amplify the stress by freeing the mind to fret in peace. Replacing them with time for students to study or do homework might not produce as much sweat, but it would certainly produce better results with less pain.

This is not a question of who deserves what. Football, theatre, band, rowing, hockey; everybody sacrifices their time and energy in the pursuit of an activity they believe important. At the same time, they represent and entertain the students of our school. These are virtues that deserve reward, regardless of how they are expressed.

In a broader sense, though, we are all sprinting for our lives on a treadmill that never slows down and never levels out. It only ever speeds up. We all have to be athletes, every hour of the day and every day of the year, just to survive.

The school system ought to condition students for a healthy, happy, civically engaged lifestyle, no doubt. Athletics should be a part of that, but it demands company. And right now, that company is excluded — the better way obscured — by the gym requirement. Only once we have moved past that outdated and ineffective solution — only once we have slowed down the treadmill — can we truly begin the work of building a greater society.